On “Extant Evidence” and Inferences

Larry Hurtado's Blog

In my previous postings on the subject, I’ve referred to what we can infer from “extant” manuscript evidence.  One reader expressed doubts about being able to make any valid inferences, given that only a small amount of manuscript evidence remains extant.  So, I’ll explain my reasoning.

First, although only a small amount of what was originally produced, the extant remains of early Christian manuscripts do amount to a body of evidence.  That’s where we start.  That we have only a small amount of the original body of evidence still means that we have some evidence.  That shouldn’t be devalued.

Secondly, the extant manuscript evidence is random, not pre-selected for preservation.  So, if anything, this actually enhances the heuristic value of the evidence.   That is, the random nature of the evidence means that it wasn’t filtered to achieve a particular result.

Thirdly, all our information about early Christianity in the first…

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